Tea in the Park

van

After an evening hiding from the midges, we woke to another beautiful windless day and seemingly even more midges. There was only one thing for it, run for the coast and hope there would be enough breeze there to scupper the winged menaces.

beach

Able to squeeze under the height barriers at Rossbehy beach we breakfasted on the rocks and watched the tide quickly recede, revealing miles of sandy beach. We took long and thankfully midge free walk along a beach, paddling in the water, dodging jellyfish and startling hermit crabs.

Selfie

wrecked

After brushing the sand from between our toes it was time to get back on the Ring and head inland. For the next few days we would make our base Killarny, gateway to the Killarny National Park.

Starting from Muckross House, we took a walk around the lower lake, the trees sheltering us from the scorching sun for much of the route. All around us were purple hued mountains, some of the colour coming from the rock, some coming from great swarths of rhododendrons, an invasive species that has all but conquered the mountainsides.

trees

boats

Trees

bridge

It was too all too much of a temptation. After a stop for a cup of tea at a conveniently placed tea shop we decided to head up a hill, despite the heat. Following the well trodden path over Torc mountain we found a rarity in mountain walks as tree cover provided much needed shelter from the unrelenting sun. As we ran low on water a nearby stream constantly teased us, but we could find no way to get to it. Finally we happened across a small gully with enough water flowing to fill our bottle from.

sign

path

view

water

As we took a break at the bottom of the descent we chatted with Noel, an elderly gentleman who’d been out for his afternoon walk to the local waterfall. We learnt from him that it was Queen Victoria who had introduced the dreaded Rhododendrons to the area, but there wasn’t much they could do about it now and despite one of us being English, he didn’t hold us personally responsible. We thanked him and he recommended a trip to the Torc waterfall, so we took his advice and were rewarded with a lovely refreshing supply of water, although the fall was clearly not in full flow.

Torc falls

In need of a shower we picked a campsite for the evening and were settling in when another Westfalia California arrived, this one with Dutch plates. They parked up next to us as Westfalia law dictates. We chatted a while as we got our diner underway, making use of our dutch oven by strange coincidence.

Westfalia for the win!

Vanlife


 

Betty’s Recipe of the Day – Potato Wedges

Get a fire or bbq coals going.

Preheat the dutch oven using 1/4 of the coals below and 3/4 on the lid, we want an oven rather than a frying pan.

Ingredients:

A couple of potatoes, cut into wedges.
A couple of cloves of garlic, chopped.
Handful of mixed herbs, chopped. We used those old classics, Rosmary and Thyme.
Oil, we used Rapeseed.
If you want a little punch to your wedges, add a chili, chopped.

Method:

Mix the oil, herbs and garlic (and chili if using).
Mix in the wedges, coating each one liberally.

Fold a piece of tinfoil into a tray the approximate shape of the dutch oven base, with edges so that you can pick it up when loaded with wedges.

Place the wedges thick side down, pointy edge up, on the foil tray. drizzle with any left over oil/herb mix.

Quickly, so as not to lose too much heat, remove the lid of the oven lower in the foil tray of wedges and replace the lid.

It depends on the amount of heat you have, but roast for for around 40 mins or so, until they have a nice colour and are cooked through.


 

There are many ways to follow the road through the gap of Dunloe, a horse and cart can be hired for the journey, some cycle and many enjoy it on foot. Although the signposts recommend not to, the route can also be driven bearing in mind that it is a single track road filled with walkers, cyclists and horses.

horse

We chose to follow the route on foot, starting from Kate Kearneys Cottage. The Gap of Dunloe was formed by glaciers, leaving what is now a scenic pass between Purple Mountain and Macgillycuddy’s Reeks. It looked like it was going to be another scorcher of a day, so we set of early. Well, as early as we could manage, which probably isn’t exactly the same thing as early.

The road zigzags across streams, passing fields of horses and sheep. It’s all paved, so the walking is easy. The horse drawn carts pass us at regular intervals, some asking if we want a ride, others already full of customers, many waving at us as they pass us. The occasional car comes through as well, but not so many as to be a bother.

The heat is starting to do strange things to us. Dan starts dreaming of bacon sandwiches for some reason, while later on the return leg Rosana develops a craving for pizza. As we reach the end of our walk our thoughts turn to more immediate matters, tea and cake from the local cafe.

pretty

more pretty

sheep portrait

bridge

We examine our map of Ireland while we rest our feet, drink our tea and eat our cakes. We’ve heard there is something akin to a continental aire in the town of Cobh and knowing nothing about the place, we decide that should be our next destination.

Sign

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The Tourists

Sometimes you just have to do what everyone else does.

We had a plan in our heads to go walking but the weather forecast said more rain and the cloud looked low, so not a great day to be in the hills. We looked at the map. It was time. We instructed Mrs TomTom to take us to Blarney Castle.

Blarney

There have been buildings on the site since the eleventh century, starting with wood built buildings and evolving over time until it became the castle we see today in the fifteenth century. As castles go, it’s not the most spectacular or interesting that we’ve ever seen, but that’s not why people flock here by the bus load. It’s the Blarney Stone that people come for, specifically it’s to kiss the Blarney Stone. Kissing the Blarney Stone is said to give the kisser the ‘gift of the gab’, ‘the power of flattery’, ‘great eloquence’. In short, kiss the Blarney Stone and never be lost for words again. Dan looked at Rosana. Was this wise?

The stone is set into the battlements at the top of the castle. During the day the queue stretched down the entire length of the steep staircase, out the door and along the approach to the castle. We went for a walk around the grounds. The castle is surrounded by beautiful gardens and in all honesty these were the highlight of the visit. Separated into distinct areas, such as the rock garden with it’s mystical witch, the pinarium, the poison garden with some fairly surprising plants and the fern garden, which feels like stepping back into the land of the dinosaurs. As we walked through the woodland area we found yet more wild garlic. Well, there was still room in the jar of pesto, so we went to work, receiving more curious looks from passers by.

Ferns portrait

Tree

rosana tree portrait

Ferns

ghost house

Mr Bean

roots

watergarden

rosana bush

As the day passed, the weather defied the forecast and steadily improved. The queue to the stone subsided as the tour buses picked up their passengers and we headed up. There are just some things you can’t leave Ireland without having done. It would be like not drinking the Guiness. If you stop and think about it, kissing a rock that’s been kissed by thousands, more likely millions of other people is probably not very hygienic. It’s best not to think about it really.

castle

selfie

The Blarney Stone is not easy to reach. Getting to it involves laying on the floor, hanging onto some iron bars and leaning down into the abyss while a young chap hangs onto you. But we did it. We didn’t get the official photograph, that would have been a step too touristy.

Oh oh

revenge

As we made our way back towards the coast to look for somewhere to spend the night we stumbled across an ancient stone circle at Drombeg near Rosscarbery and stopped for a look. It’s hard to pin down what it is about these circles that draws us in and we’ll probably never truly understand them, but there was no denying that the place felt peaceful. The evening was becoming quite pleasant and the parking by the stones was quiet and out of the way so we decided to stay there for the night.

Stoned

With another few handfuls for wild garlic, Rosana got to work creating more pesto, while Dan started on dinner.


Betty’s Recipe of the Day

Wild Garlic, Mushrooms and Chicken in Cream

Ingredients

A handful of wild garlic, washed and chopped.

An onion, roughly chopped.

A handful of mushrooms, quartered.

Two chicken breasts, diced

Creme fraiche (or cream, or yoghurt) 125ml

Flour (enough to coat the chicken)

Mixed herbs

White wine or cider

Method:

1. Fry the onion in a little oil for a while.

2. Add the mushrooms and fry for a short while.

3. In the mean time, mix some dried herbs and a little salt into some flour.

4. Coat the diced chicken in the herby flour mix.

5. Add the chicken to the pan and fry for a couple of minutes.

6. Add the wine or cider and the garlic.  Not to much liquid, 100ml or so should do it.

7.  Continue cooking until chicken cooked through.

8. Add the Creme Fraiche, just enough to bring everything together .  Maybe 125ml or so.

Serve with rice.

You can alter this recipe easily by adding a teaspoon or two of something to the cream,  Soy Sauce, Worcestor Sauce or Mustard will work.


Camping spot

Held to Ramsones

It was a dry but blustery day as we headed down towards Hook Head. A few miles out of Wexford we spotted a small stall by the side of the road selling strawberries. Wexford, we discovered, was the home of Irish Strawberries. We came to an abrupt halt, scaring the vendor half to death, bought a couple of punnets of fresh local strawberries for the princely sum of five euros and started feasting on them before we’d even pulled away. These stalls would be a common sight all the way through the county of Wexford, many also offering raspberries and potatoes for sale.

It was as we were rejoining the road a little red light lit up on the dashboard.

After the moment of panic passed, having noticed it was the battery light and not the oil light, we continued on and decided to stop at Tintern Abbey for a look around and to check what was up with the van. We could see that the leisure batteries weren’t charging either, so clearly something alternator related had happened.

Abbey from Bridge.  Sounds like Brands Hatch.

Popping the bonnet open we found the alternator belt to be missing. A quick look under the van found the remains dangling from the undertray. We had a spare, so it was just a matter of getting it fitted. In the mean time, we connected an invertor into the leisure batteries, plugged in the battery charger and went off for a wander around the Abbey. It didn’t look interesting enough to go into so we carried on past and into the surrounding woodland where we were met with an oh-so-familiar smell.

Pretty

Lush green Ransomes, better known as wild garlic, grew everywhere. Although getting late in year for them, edible leaves were abundant. We leapt in harvested a few handfuls under the suspicious gaze of passers by.

Not a passer by

Finished with our foraging we continued on with our journey to Hook Head and pondered our next move. Being Sunday there were no garages open to help us and without a decent jack or the axle stands it wasn’t a job we were going to do ourselves. The decision was made to find a campsite and get an electric hookup for the night, ensuring we could charge all the van’s batteries. We’d hoped to wildcamp on the headland, but we keeping the van’s starter battery charged was of higher priority.

The narrow and winding roads that lead down to the lighthouse brought new meaning to the definition of bumpy. As we bounced and crashed our way along the road, darting into passing places when meeting oncoming traffic, the number of cyclists grew and grew. Clearly Sunday bike rides are very popular in the region and it was a joy to see so many people enjoying themselves on two wheels.

Betty and Lighthouse.  BFF!

In the windy conditions the headland feels a wild place. Waves crash over the rocks soaking anyone who ventures too near the edge. There has been a light on Hook Head as far back as 500AD, originally a fire kept alive by monks to guard sailors against shipwreck on the rocky shore. In the thirteenth century a tower was built to guide shipping into the port of Ross, further up the estuary. By the seventeenth century the tower had fallen into disuse and ships began to be wrecked on the headland, leading to the refurbishment of the tower, which included the introduction of a lantern arrangement to protect the fire that provide the light. In nineteenth century the lighthouse was took the shape that we see today, although the light would have been burning whale oil rather than the electric light we see now. We took the tour up the tower to the balcony which gives fantastic views over the local area, but we weren’t allowed in to see the light itself.

Lighthouse

A coastal path leads away from the lighthouse which we followed for a while, watching a solitary seal hunt for fish just offshore, before returning back the way we came and heading off to find a local campsite, discovering that campsites in this area are even more expensive than Wexford. We settled in for the evening, Rosana preparing a dinner of pasta with wild garlic pesto.


Betty’s Recipe of the Day

Wild Garlic Pesto:

A couple of large handfuls of wild garlic, washed and finely chopped.

A small handful of toasted nuts, finely chopped. We used pine nuts and cashew nuts.

Grated Parmesan cheese.

Oil. We used Rapeseed oil, but a good Olive oil would be better.

Mix it all together in a jar, great on pasta, potatoes, bread or in soups.


As the evening drew in and the wind dropped we flew kites in the ample space of the campsite which encouraged the young girl in the only other van on the site to drag her parents out to fly her kite as well. As the wind became more fickle and flying less fun, we retired to the van to search for a garage that could help us fit the new alternator belt.

Campsite

Around Ireland with a Fridge

We rolled into the wildcamping spot at around half past ten in the evening, a little carpark in a cove near Fishguard on the west coast of Wales. There were a few other vans overnighting there, but plenty of space for all of us and it didn’t feel crowded.

Wildcamped at Fishguard

The final part of the engine rebuild had been completed at lunchtime the previous day, the last leak found and fixed and in an almost symbolic gesture of completion, the engine undertray that had been leaning against the back of the van for almost three months was bolted back on. As a consequence of not knowing if we’d be back on the road or not we were heading out on a trip that was even more unplanned that last year’s trip to Germany, where our intended destination flooded and the fridge started going wrong on day one. But the van had driven the long ribbon of tarmac of the M4 across England and Wales without missing a beat, we had our ferry bookings and we had a couple of days worth of water on board, it was time to get back to having adventures. We were going to Ireland.

Our basic plan, if we were to call it that, involved catching the two thirty ferry to Rosslare and a quick drive up to Wexford where we had a campsite booked for the night. After that we figured we would continue to head west for the Ring of Kerry on the other side of Ireland and then work our way back to Rosslare where we were booked on the nine o’clock ferry on the longest day of the year. That gave us two weeks of exploring.

It was fantastic to be sleeping in the van again and we got a good night’s rest. After a short wander around the coastal path that led away from our camping spot we set off towards the ferry terminal, stopping along the way to pick up some food for dinner from the local shops. Everything was running on time and we were soon onboard the ferry.

At least she has a friend

The Irish sea has a reputation for being a bit rough. Rosana doesn’t like boats at the best of times and was therefore not looking forward to the three and a half hour crossing. Dan loves boats and will bore anyone willing to listen with stories of crossing monstrous seas to get to Shetland, cramped conditions on salvage vessels in the tropics and fighting sea monsters off the coast of Belgium, so was quite looking forward to the trip. With a wind speed of around force three on the beaufort scale, the crossing was uneventful and the giant ferry hardly noticed the sea state as we crossed the seemingly still green water, losing sight of Wales before finally spotting our destination in the distance.

All aboard whos going aboard

The ferry, the Stena Europe, was well appointed with restaurant and coffee shop and felt quite spacious. There was plenty of space outside too if you wanted to take in the sea air. For those that wanted to stay inside, they showed a film in the coffee shop, although we couldn’t hear it, so gave up on that.

Rosana's favourite bit of any ship - the lifeboats

The verdict: Rosana thought it was a bit rough, Dan thought he’d been on rougher train journeys.

Disembarking was quick and efficient and we made our way to the campsite for our first night in Ireland. Our first impressions were that the roads were bumpy and the campsites expensive. Feeling quite tired by now we cooked a quick dinner of vegetable rice and steak using our new toy. Over at Landcruising Adventure they were extolling the virtues of pressure cookers. They use much less water and because cooking time is much shorter and at lower heat setting, use less cooking fuel (meths in our case). It seemed obvious, so we got a small one to try out and while it may not be as cool as Coen and Karin-Marijke’s ‘dragon’, it was very successful. A simple meal, from start to table in around 15 minutes.


 Betty’s Recipe of the Day

Vegetable Rice:

Add a handful of spinach leaves and grate a carrot into the rice. Cook in a pressure cooker (4 minutes once pressure is reached).

Steak:

Cook to your liking in a hot pan (4 minutes per side for medium rare on our alcohol stove).

Leave to rest, then slice into 1cm strips.

Serve with a leafy side salad


While loading the van with water for the next few days travelling we chatted with David, an Irish T4 owner that was also staying at the campsite. We chatted about vans, his being a similar age but different engine and conversion to ours and about campsites and possible wild camp locations along the south coast. We wished each other safe journeys, his back home after a weekend away, ours only just beginning.

We looked at the map and had a flick through the guide book. It wasn’t a hard decision, our first destination was to be Hook Head and possibly the oldest working lighthouse in the world.